Tabletop goes digital.
Battlefield 4 is the grim and gritty A-Team reboot nobody knew they wanted.
The campaign (what I saw of it, that is) stars an elite group of wacky soldiers and the multiplayer offers numerous opportunities for explosive improvisation, but a monochromatic colorscheme permeates both modes and the game’s story could use a little work. However, if you’re still into the whole modern military shooter thing, Battlefield 4 is probably one of the best games in that genre…when it works.
You see, the Battlefield 4 you can purchase right now is often unplayable. My campaign progress was erased twice, the game often crashed behind loading screens, and the multiplayer lag is just inexcusable. And this is almost three months after launch! I can only assume this game came in hot, and it hasn’t cooled down since. Battlefield 4 is both a great multiplayer shooter caked in layers of garbage and a compelling argument for never buying an Electronic Arts product ever again.
I have no idea how to criticize something I only saw a fraction of, but the first two missions of the Battlefield 4 campaign are certainly two missions of a modern shooter campaign. If you’re into big setpieces mixed with slower combat, this is certainly full of those.
Many people just don’t like modern shooter campaigns, and if you’re in that camp, there’s nothing Battlefield 4 can do to convince you otherwise. But if you’re like me, and you can count the number of gritty shooters you’ve played on a single hand, this won’t be enough to make you sick of the premise.
In terms of writing, I don’t know how the story ends, but it certainly begins well enough. The protagonists are delightfully cartoonish, almost to the level of the Bad Company team. If the player character Redeker wasn’t dead silent, the dry geopolitical story would’ve possibly gone down a little easier, but as is, Irish and Pac are fun.
Not fun enough to convince me to replay the opening missions a third time, however. Like I said before, my saves have completely vanished into the ether. Once, I could forgive. The combat is the right mix of tactical, and the game’s creative use of Total Eclipse of the Heart is worth seeing twice. But to have my progress disappear a second time? I don’t even know how that kind of thing happens with a linear shooter.
Once you’re sick of Bonnie Tyler and the campaign breaking, there’s a mostly great suite of multiplayer modes available.
First off, don’t even bother with the deathmatch modes. They work fine in fast-paced shooters like Call of Duty, but they’re frustrating and tedious here. Defuse is probably the most interesting mode, which pits two teams of up to 5 against each other. One team has to bring a bomb to an objective, while the other pushes back. There are no respawns, and if the bomb goes off, the attacking team wins. With two equally competent squads on the right map, it can be a series of tense white-knuckle standoffs. If the ‘no respawns’ aspect doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, there are larger-scale versions of the mode available.
That’s one of Battlefield 4’s biggest strengths: there are only a handful of core modes, but the game offers them at different scales. For example, if you just left a particularly lengthy Conquest match and wanted to play a bite-sized version of that mode, you could just hop into Domination and play the same gametype on a smaller scale. But why would you ever want to stop playing Conquest?
Conquest — at least on the new machines and PC — is a fantastic mode when done properly. Fill a game with some evenly matched players, give everyone some helicopters or tanks, and watch the map explode. It’s your standard ‘hold the control point’ mode, but the size is what really sets Conquest apart. The mode tops out at 64 players on PlayStation 4, and I can’t imagine the mode with anything less.
At times, it feels like a war zone, with dozens of individual conflicts happening all around you. As you rush off to capture a flag (not like that, Capture the Flag is sadly DLC), you may see two jets in a pitched dogfight, helicopters exploding all around you, tanks rolling off to clear the path for your team’s infantry; this is a true battlefield — in more ways than one.
It’s also the mode where you’ll find the most improvisation and emergent gameplay. I’ve never seen anything quite as spectacular as that Battlefield 3 jet kill, but I pulled off a couple really great kills of my own. That’s not counting all the other great deaths (someone ran me over with a helicopter) or little stories my comrades and I made along the way. The environment destruction also works really well here; I can’t tell you how many times I made my own door using a grenade launcher. If you’re looking for a game that will really put the PS4’s ‘Share’ button to the test, Battlefield 4 absolutely delivers.
Conquest is best played on the Parcel Storm map, which is thankfully included on the disc. This is where you’ll see the Frostbite 3 engine in full effect, especially when the storm really begins to rage. The environments are varied and provide opportunities for players to use all kinds of vehicles. It’s possibly the best Conquest map available, right behind Siege of Shanghai.
Playing Conquest in Operation Locker is worth doing at least once, if only to see what happens when both teams clash in the middle of the extremely linear map. After that? Never play that mode on that map ever again. The cluster stops being funny and becomes overwhelming very quickly.
Battlefield 4 works best when both teams are even, so it was quite disheartening when the game would deposit me into a team of either unstoppable supersoldiers or baby-faced recruits. I was on both sides of a curb stomp too often. The matchmaking could use a little work, especially the Defuse and Team Deathmatch modes.
That’s not the only thing that could use a little work, sadly. The last few Conquest matches I played were cursed with an unbearable lag, to the point where I was teleporting backwards after running halfway across the map. In a game where you can only take a few bullets, this amount of lag is unacceptable. I also found myself unable to connect to matches quite often. And it wasn’t my connection; all those little bars were full. This problem is on EA and DICE’s head.
And that’s not even counting all the crashes upon crashes. It crashed during singleplayer, it crashed during multiplayer, it crashed quietly behind loading screens (this happened 5 times, twice in a row), it crashed loudly back to the XMB. I know the PlayStation 4 is a new platform, but when giving up $60 for a game, customers expect a game that doesn’t crash all the time.
Thankfully, the game is blessed with a generally solid 60 FPS (it dipped every so often, but such glitches were a rarity) and looks spectacular on PS4. If the game is fixed at some point, and you want to see what the next 5 or so years have in store, this is an excellent buy. That is, of course, if the game is fixed.
If Battlefield 4 was a bad game, these technical issues would just be another mark against it. So it’s a tragedy that what is perhaps the year’s best multiplayer shooter is constrained by flaws that have nothing to do with the design.
Battlefield 4 is simultaneously a great argument for putting the AAA gaming industry out of its misery and a compelling defense of blockbuster titles. EA and DICE have been gunning for the Call of Duty crown since 2011, and with Battlefield 4, they could have smashed the competition. This game would have easily been in my Top 10 had I played it before the year came to an end. Conquest is worth the asking price alone, and that’s even before you factor in all the other neat modes. However, it’s still inexcusably broken after 75 days.
In its current state, Battlefield 4 is absolutely unrecommendable, especially for $60. Remember this the next time EA tries to sell you a game. Remember SimCity and Battlefield 4; two major releases with utterly botched launches. Remember how much they want you to pay for these games. Remember the season passes, and the scads of DLC that EA pre-sold before Battlefield 4 was even available. Remember all that when the next big EA game comes out and think very hard about whether you want to bet another $60 on their quality control.